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Environmental Crime Legal Framework In Guatemala

The Constitution of Guatemala contains provisions for the protection of the environment. Article 64 oversees the preservation of natural heritage, stating: “The conservation, protection and improvement of the natural heritage of the Nation[,] is declared [to be] of national interest. The State will promote the creation of national parks, reservations, and natural sanctuaries [refugios], which are inalienable. A law will guarantee their protection and that of the fauna and the flora that exists within them”.

Article 97 reads: “The State, the municipalities and the inhabitants of the national territory are obligated to promote [propiciar] the social, economic, and technological development that prevents the pollution [contaminación] of the environment and maintains the ecological balance. All the necessary regulations will be dictated to guarantee that the use [utilización y el aprovechamiento] of the fauna, [the] flora, [the] land, and [the] water, are conducted rationally, avoiding their depredation”.

Featured Legislation

1986: The Environmental Protection and Improvement Act was adopted. The legislation requires that an Environmental Impact Assessment be carried out for all projects, works, industries or any other activities that can potentially damage natural resources or the environment.

1989: Decree 4 was introduced to establish the National Council of Protected Areas, a semi-autonomous public entity that has jurisdiction over all protected areas.

1989: The Law of Protected Areas (LAP) was passed in order to combat deforestation and promote and foster conservation and the improvement of the natural heritage of Guatemala. Finally, the legislation created the System of Protected Areas in Guatemala (SIGAP).

2000: Decree 90 was signed, overseeing the Environment and Natural Resources Ministry (MARN).

2003: Congress issued Decree 52, creating The Incentives for the Development of Renewable Energy Projects Act, which establishes tax, economic and administrative incentives.

2009: National Climate Change Policy.The general objective of the National Climate Change Policy is that the State of Guatemala, through the Central Government, the municipalities, organized civil society and the general public, adopt risk prevention practices, vulnerability reduction and improvement of adaptation to climate change, and contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in our territory, helping to improve the quality of life of its inhabitants and strengthening its capacity to influence international climate change negotiations.

2013:The Framework Act for Reducing Vulnerability, Obligatory Adaptation Before the Effects of Climate Change and the Mitigation of Greenhouse Gas Emissions (Decree 7) was implemented to establish an emissions reduction regime.

2016: Environmental Pact in Guatemala 2016-2020. The Environmental Pact in Guatemala is a document adopted by the Government of Guatemala to generate a multisectoral space for dialogue with the objective of developing a Strategic Agenda to Manage the Environment in the period 2016-2020, and agree on its joint implementation among the various sectors. Its purpose is therefore to serve as a guide for joint and collaborative action in the short term, between the Government, the private sector and civil society. Its content addresses the following principles: orientation to the common good, sustainable economic development, competitiveness, ethics and transparency, commitment, inclusion, multiculturalism, co-responsibility and innovation. The Strategic Agenda contained in the Pact prioritizes the following six topics: (a) care for water; (b) reduce deforestation and loss of biodiversity; (c) improve the country's environmental management; (d) clean up the country of solid waste; (e) prepare for climate change; and (f) produce sustainably. For each theme, the document defines the vision and goals to be achieved by the year 2030. This Agenda also incorporates guidelines from the K'atun 2032 National Development Plan and measures that will contribute to advancing 12 of the 17 Global Sustainable Development Goals that Guatemala agrees as a member of the United Nations System.

2016: The Environmental Evaluation, Control and Monitoring Regulation No. 137 was enacted to establish the necessary guidelines, structure and procedures to support the sustainable development of the country in environmental matters.

2019: The New Regulation for Environmental Evaluation, Control and Monitoring (No. 317) was introduced to amend the 2016 legislation.

Featured Case Studies: Transnational Environmental Crime, Human Security, and Biosecurity

  • Global Witness, an international NGO investigating the links between natural resource exploitation, conflict, poverty, corruption, and human rights abuses, has recorded an uptick in attacks against members of the Campesino Development Committee (CODECA), a national indigenous-led social movement advancing land rights in Guatemala. in 2019: four CODECA-affiliated community leaders were killed in one month in the municipality of Livingston, an area known for its  extensive mining operations and oil palm plantations. In fact, Guatemala was considered one of the most dangerous countries in the world for land and environmental activists in 2019. The international community has acted by endorsing a United Nations-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, but then President Jimmy Morales shut down the commission, heightening the levels of corruption and impunity plaguing the nation’s extractive industries.
  • Guatemala’s Mayan Biosphere has become targeted  by criminal groups bordering Mexico and Belize; these groups have engaged in the pilfering of ancient artifacts, illegal lumbering and the smuggling of exotic animals. Referred to as eco-trafficking by the locals, the theft of Guatemala’s natural resources is accompanied by the trafficking of narcotics. In 2015: Guatemala’s first court dedicated to prosecuting crimes against the environment was established with the support of civil society leaders, 23 justices of the peace, two Supreme Court justices, and the Public Ministry’s environmental lawyer. A new plan has been created to involve external stakeholders such as 600 park rangers, the Alliance of Protection, the National Police’s Environmental Investigative Branch, the Center for Conservationist Studies, the National Council for Protected Areas (CONAP), and the Institute for Archeology and History. The Government of Guatemala and USAID have worked together to create an integrated justice system prepared to address complex criminality. The approach will include coordinated efforts between special courts to address corruption, organized crime, kidnappings, narco-trafficking, gangs and trafficking in persons.

References and Further Reading


Guatemalan Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources: